Five year after his conviction and sentence to an aggregate fine of N750, 000 by a Federal Capital Territory High Court presided over by Justice Abubakar Talba, sparked national and international outrage, John Yusuf, one of six federal civil servants facing prosecution for allegedly stealing N32.8 billion of police pension fund today got a respectable punishment for his offence as the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, sentenced him to 6 years imprisonment and a fine of N22.9billion.
The ruling by the appellate court is the climax of the appeal by the prosecuting agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which, dissatisfied with the decision of the trial court in a plea bargain agreement, on April 26, 2013 approached the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the lower court.
The five grounds of the appeal, bordered on the exercise of discretion of the Judge in imposing sentence on the respondent who pleaded guilty to the three count charge ( Counts 17, 18 and 19 of the charge), in which he admitted converting an aggregate sum of over N24 billion of Police Pension fund into his personal use.
The appellant in its brief of argument dated and filed on the 17th September, 2013, formulated one issue, for determination by the Appeal Court, which is: “whether the trial judge exercised his discretion judicially and judiciously when having convicted the respondent of a three count charge of conversion of over N3billion contrary to section 309 of the Penal Code, His Lordship imposed two years imprisonment with an option of fine of N250, 000 on each of the three counts”.
The respondent on the 10th June, 2015 raised a preliminary objection on the competence of the appeal for which they argued that the notice of appeal was filed outside the mandatory 90 days and therefore in contravention of s. 24(2)(b) of the Court of Appeal Act, 2010 (as Amended) and therefore urged the Court to dismiss the appeal.
The Justices of the Court of Appeal, dismissed the preliminary objection on the grounds that; “Having considered the computation of time volunteered by both parties, the question to be answered was whether the day the Judgment of the trial court was delivered was to be inclusive in the computation of the mandatory 90 days for which a notice of appeal was to be filed?
“That the day the Judgment of the trial court was delivered being the 28th January, 2013, was not to be included in the computation of the 90 days.
“That since the day of the Judgment is not included, the 90 days starts running from the 29th January, 2013 and the 90th day will fall on a Sunday.
“That by virtue of s. 15(2) of the Interpretation Act CAP 123, where the last day is a holiday, the counting shall continue until the end of the next following day which is not a holiday.
“That since the 90th day was a Sunday and by virtue of s. 15 (5) of Interpretation Act, a Sunday is a holiday, the next day which the notice of appeal was filed is within time, hence the appeal is competent and is therefore allowed”.
Ruling on the substantive matter, the Justices of the Court of Appeal held unanimously that the three counts involving the respondent (Counts 17, 18 and 19) clearly stated the amounts for which the appellant alleged that the respondent converted for his personal use. That the respondent pleaded guilty to the three counts and thereby admitted to the conversion of an aggregate sum of about N24billion to his personal use.
That the sentence of the trial court, does not serve as deterrence to both the convict and others. Consequently, they ruled that the sentence is “hereby quashed and deserves to be reviewed as follows: on Counts 17, the Respondent is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment with an addition of fine of N20billion Naira; on Counts 18, the Respondent is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment with an addition of fine of 1.4billion Naira; on counts 19, the Respondent is hereby sentenced to two years imprisonment with an addition of fine of 1.5billion Naira”.
The sentence of imprisonment is to run consecutively and the fine is to be cumulative.
In a related development, the Supreme Court on March 9 dismissed the appeal by Onyia Ifeanyi, seeking to upturn his conviction and sentence to 7 years imprisonment on November 28, 2013 by the Federal High Court Enugu presided over by Justice M.L. Shuaibu ( as he then was) for the offence of obtaining by false pretence and being in possession of documents containing false pretence.
Dissatisfied with his conviction, the appellant had lodged an appeal against it at the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the decision of the trial court.
Still not satisfied with the decision of the appellate court, the convict proceeded to the Supreme Court. The apex court in a unanimous judment on March 9, affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal.